Manchester United face a trip to the North East for a second game in 48 hours as the Capital One Cup heads into the semi-final stage.
Both sides are potentially just 180 minutes of football away from a Wembley final which is likely to be an enticing prospect as well as a welcomed distraction, with David Moyes and Gus Poyet experiencing troubled Premier League campaigns so far.
Sunderland currently lie bottom of the Premier League table and have won just twice in the Premier League since the beginning of November, with a New Years Day defeat to struggling Aston Villa the latest in a long line of turgid displays.
Meanwhile, United looked to be getting back in the groove after six wins on the bounce in December but consecutive home defeats have seen the Reds lose yet more ground on the teams above them, as well as an FA Cup exit at the hands of Swansea yesterday.
United are still in the Champions League and the league title hopes are still there but the Capital One Cup now represents the most realistic chance of silverware in Moyes’ first season in charge of the club.
Moyes could recall a host of first team players for the fixture at the Stadium of Light with David de Gea, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick all set to return after being rested against Swansea. Wayne Rooney could play a part but Ferdinand and Fabio have both joined a growing list of unavailable players through injury and suspension respectively.
Sunderland are likely to be without goalkeeper Kieren Westwood after he sustained a shoulder injury while Carlos Cuellar and John O’Shea are also doubtful.
The sides have already met once this season in the league where United triumphed at the Stadium of Light. The Reds turned the game on its head thanks to a brace from Adnan Januzaj after Craig Gardner had given Sunderland the lead. United also ran out winners in both meetings last season.
In the Capital One Cup this term Sunderland have sprung a major surprise this term, dumping Chelsea out in extra time at the quarter-final stage of the competition. MK Dons, Peterborough and Southampton have all been dispatched by Poyet’s side in previous rounds.
United’s run to the semi-final hasn’t been straight forward as they have faced Premier League opposition in every round so far with Liverpool, Norwich and Stoke. It has been a good run and now only Sunderland stand in the way of the final.
The Reds struggles at Old Trafford have been highlighted by consecutive home defeats since the turn of the year which has led to many questioning the character and hunger of the current squad. However, United haven’t lost since the 1 September on their travels and will be hoping to seize the initiative in the first leg.
The players are likely to be buoyed by their frankly brilliant away support with a strong travelling contingent expected on Wearside ahead of a potentially crucial point in Moyes’ reign.
A piece of silverware could act as a springboard for Moyes and United are well placed to better an out of form Sunderland outfit over two legs, and set up a potential all-Manchester final as City play West Ham on Wednesday night.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United